Dr Ajaz Anwar remembers an encounter with a fierce dog at his friend’s place, and how the animal became his best friend over time
My class fellow Sarwar Malick’s father and uncle had purchased a huge, old bungalow on 14 Rashid Road, Lahore, behind the Animal Husbandry College. It was known as Rose Gardens. That it had anything to do with Charles Rose, the first postmaster general of the united Punjab, is only a matter of conjecture. Over time, a whole new locality developed inside it, which comprised several generations of the clan.
The bungalow had two huge gates which were always left wide open. There was no doorbell either. It was a task having to yell out my friend’s name in a high-pitched voice. Malick’s uncle seemed to have a solution: He adopted a very fierce-looking, white bulldog and lodged it in a cage originally meant for poultry. This canine developed a special love-and-hate relationship with me. Every time I visited my friend, I’d prick the encaged dog with a stick and the poor animal would intermittently bark and yell, forcing my friend to come out from the labyrinth of settlements.
One day, as I picked the stick, I froze to death. To my horror, the cage was empty. Normally, people are scared when they see a dog; here I was numbed upon not seeing the dog. Soon I felt warm breathing behind my neck. Without turning around, with squinted eyes, near the blind spot, I saw the canine flashing its 36 incisors and grinders and a massive pink tongue.
I did not find it funny. As I picked up my Hercules bicycle, the animal with blood-thirsty red eyes was ready to settle old scores. With me on this side and the dog on the other, and the cycle in the middle, I tried to dodge the animal as if it were a Spanish bull and myself a matador, except that my bicycle was not red. (It may be mentioned that the Spanish bull never runs away in spite of gross cruelty.)
Sensing the likely outcome of an unequal match, Malick’s uncle and father came to my rescue. They warned me not to run off, but stay calm instead. How would I not try to run away and keep my calm when a most fierce bulldog was ready to pounce upon me?
Just as it had decided to jump over my vehicle, which by then was lying on the ground, uncle reached the spot and restrained the animal by holding it by its leather collar.
However, my left cheek had been moistened by the saliva from the big pink tongue. The dog had just missed its intended target by a fraction.
Picking my bicycle, I paddled away without looking back ever. I vowed never to visit this ‘haunted’ house again.
When I told my father about my encounter with the dog, he took me to our family physician, Dr Abdus Samad, so that I could be administered 14 anti-rabies injections in my stomach (as was mandatory in case of a dog bite in those days). But the good doctor did not find it necessary, as I hadn’t been bitten by the dog. My father suspected if I had struck a deal with the doctor. I too opined that if there was someone who should be inoculated it was the owner of the dog.
I didn’t visit my friend for many weeks. His affectionate uncle sent me a message, saying that I should see him.
I went there, with a loaf of bread loaded with minced meat. Tiger, as the dog was called, was enjoying a deep slumber. I called out its name and the dog half-opened an eye and cast a lazy but suspicious look at me. Just then, I tossed a piece of the loaf inside the cage. The dog sniffed it and made short work of it. I opened the latch of the cage and placed the rest of the bread loaf outside.
The dog pounced upon it, and finished it, while wagging its tail. Spotting uncle, who happened to pass by, Tiger ran after his master, pretending to attack him.
“Chacha ji! Don’t panic and don’t you run!” I shouted.
Then I ran after the dog and caught it by the collar. Uncle was quite amazed. He exclaimed, “Now you two have become friends!”
A dog is always a man’s best friend, I replied. After all, Bulleh Shah had also eulogised dogs: “Baazi lae gai, kuttay; taithoan uttay.”
From then on, I would always bring some meaty food for the dog whenever I visited my friend. I would put it outside the cage and then open its door. Howling and emitting musical sounds, the dog would munch on its food, wagging its tail in curvilinear rhythms. Then the animal would dance around me and sniff and lick my bicycle to factory-finish shine.
For my friend, Tiger sent signals in short and medium wavelengths. If Malick still did not emerge from his hideout soon enough, the dog would enter the house and deliver my summons.
I soon realised that Tiger could bark in several tunes, threatening as well as friendly and persuasive. But it was now my best friend too.
It is quite unfortunate that many households don’t keep a dog because of misinterpreted religious dictates. This has given the robbers an open field.
Keeping dogs for betted fights is certainly a great cruelty and unlawful too. “An animal never forgets if you are kind to it even for once,” said Major Wankadia, when he persuaded a delinquent lion back to its high-security cage. The late journalist and columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee was often photographed surrounded by dogs. It was reported that his pets did not eat for many days after he died.
(This dispatch is dedicated to Malick Sarwar)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]